Between 1933 and 1942 Alan Lomax traveled throughout rural Kentucky to record songs for the Archive of American Folk Songs at the Library of Congress. The collection has been digitized and is now available online at http://lomaxky.omeka.net/
Among the many songs Lomax recorded in Kentucky were eight different versions of the traditional Scottish ballad, “Barbara Allen.” “Barbara Allen” (sometimes called “Barbry Allen,” “Barbry Ellen,” or other variants) is one of the most widely recorded and collected folk songs in the English language. Hundreds of versions have been collected in Scotland, England, Ireland, and North America, including the versions collected by Lomax. The earliest existing mention of the song is from a diary kept by Samuel Pepys in 1666. He refers to hearing the ballad sung at a New Year’s party. The themes of the ballad – unrequited love and tragic death – are timeless.